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Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Thingsby Randy Frost and Gail Steketee
Stuff is an illuminating, page-turning look at compulsive hoarding (which affects up to five percent of the population), and a thoughtful, psychological, and philosophical examination of the meanings we attach to material objects. Fascinating, sympathetic, and surprising, Stuff is an unusual, intelligent read.
Who knew stuff was so important? My God, read this book and you will never look at your own stuff the same way again. It's really very chilling to see how life can become so complicated by something so seemingly innocuous. Frost and Steketee do an excellent job of peeling away the layers of pathology and leaving the core problems exposed. A riveting read!
"On the entire spectrum of vice, compulsive hoarding registers toward the innocuous end. Who doesn't have a drawer full of faded T-shirts or old rubber bands? Still, in its most extreme forms the phenomenon is repulsive enough that it's a natural for reality TV. Last year A & E premiered Hoarders, which features homes pregnant with debris and agitated occupants who have been given the ultimatum — by landlords or health inspectors — to clean up or move out. A woman stalls a cleanup crew for hours, demanding that they recover a treasured piece of broken floor tile they've misplaced. Amusing. But then come the long-suffering spouses who pick their way, Daniel Boone-like, through "goat paths" on the way to bed. When the camera films a woman asking Mom if a broken vacuum cleaner and its dander-filled companions are more important than family, the problem ticks, on our vice spectrum, a shade closer to perdition. Buried as we are in a glut of cheap goods, clutter is the rule, but we draw the line at ankle deep. More than that, and you've got problems." Darcy Courteau, The Wilson Quarterly (read the entire Wilson Quarterly review)
Synopses & Reviews
What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper that's ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a woman like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items like leaky old buckets almost lost him his house? Or Jerry and Alvin, wealthy twin bachelors who filled up matching luxury apartments with countless pieces of fine art, not even leaving themselves room to sleep?
Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of others. Now they explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies in the vein of Oliver Sacks.
With vivid portraits that show us the traits by which you can identify a hoarder — piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders churn but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage — Frost and Steketee explain the causes and outline the often ineffective treatments for the disorder.They also illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us. Whether we're savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, none of us is free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live. For the six million sufferers, their relatives and friends, and all the rest of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.
"Amassing stuff is normal in our materialistic culture, but for millions it reaches unhealthy levels, according to the authors of this eye-opening study of the causes of hoarding, its meaning for the hoarder, and its impact on their families. Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College, and Steketee, dean of the social work school at Brown, gather much anecdotal material from conversations with extreme hoarders and find that for such people, 'intense emotional meaning is attached to so many of their possessions... even trash.' For some, this meaning inheres in animals: one interviewee has 200 cats. The effects of hoarding on the hoarder's spouse, parents, and children can be severe, the authors find. Frost and Steketee write with real sympathy and appreciation for hoarders, and their research indicates 'an absence of warmth, acceptance, and support' during many hoarders' early years. They even speculate that a hoarder's 'attention to the details of objects' may indicate 'a special form of creativity and appreciation for the aesthetics of everyday things.' This succinct, illuminating book will prove helpful to hoarders, their families, and mental health professionals who work with them." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Pioneering researchers offer a superb overview of a complex disorder that interferes with the lives of more than six-million Americans....An absorbing, gripping, important report." Kirkus (starred)
"[T]he authors make us take a closer look at our own lives, wondering (for example) about that very fine line that divides a collector from a hoarder. Fascinating stuff that could generate some off-the-book-pages interest." Booklist
"Stuff is authoritative, haunting, and mysterious. It is also intensely, not to say compulsively readable." Tracy Kidder
Using the latest research along with vivid case histories, Frost and Steketee describe the psychological and biological causes of compulsive hoarding, a disorder that affects as man as six million people.
Two acclaimed psychologists take us inside the fascinating lives of compulsive hoarders
We've seen them in a Dateline story or an Oprah feature: homes that have become improbable repositories of — literally — tons of stuff. The camera crews zoom in on rooms crammed floor-to-ceiling with stacks of newspapers and magazines. We watch, fascinated, as professional organizers attack the untidy rooms, or the host expresses horror at a filthy kitchen, but never ask the larger question: How did it come to this?
Stuff is the first book to explore compulsive hoarding, a disorder that affects as many as six million people. Using the latest research, much of which they pioneered in their decade of study, along with vivid case histories of a range of hoarders (animal collectors, compulsive shoppers, elderly packrats, scavengers), Frost and Steketee describe the various causes of hoarding — psychological and biological — and the traits by which you can identify a hoarder. In a portrait that disproves many of our assumptions about the often-hidden disease (for example, most hoarders aren't reacting to childhood poverty or deprivation), they also examine the forces behind a hoarder's behavior and the ways in which they affect all of us, whether it's the passion of a collector, the rigor of someone whose desk is always clean, the sentimentality of the person who saves ticket stubs.
For the sufferers, their relatives and friends, and all the rest of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.
A thoughtfully researched and fascinating appraisal of what happens when our stuff starts to own us
What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper thats ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a person to sacrifice her marriage or career for an accumulation of seemingly useless things? Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago. They didn't expect that they would end up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of hoarders. Their vivid case studies (reminiscent of Oliver Sacks) in Stuff show how you can identify a hoarder—piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders “churn” but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage—and illuminate the pull that possessions exert over all of us. Whether were savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to extremes.
About the Author
DR. GAIL STEKETEE is a professor and acting dean at Boston University in the school of social work.
DR. RANDY FROST is a professor of psychology at Smith College and an internationally known expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder and compulsive hoarding, as well as the pathology of perfectionism.
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